How Many Brothers Did Jesus Have?


The Gospels mention Jesus’ family members several times. His mother, Mary, and his father, Joseph, are the most well-known because of their roles in Jesus’ birth story. Mary also appears at other times in the New Testament, such as at the crucifixion. But what about Jesus’ brothers? Who were they? How many of them were there?

The Gospel of Mark reveals that Jesus had four brothers: James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (6:3). The Gospel of Matthew includes three of the four names Mark does, exchanging “Joses” with “Joseph” (13:55). Yet, the difference is merely an alternative spelling; it doesn’t refer to a different person.

Does Jesus list his biological brothers in Mark and Matthew, or does someone else? Were they half-brothers? What does the original Greek reveal about the names Joses and Joseph? How do modern Bible translations render the names? Did Jesus’ brothers always believe in him? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Jesus crucifixion
Does the Greek say “Joses” or “Joseph”? See below

James, Joses, Judas, and Simon: Jesus’ Brothers in the Gospels

It isn’t Jesus who mentions his brothers’ names in Mark and Matthew, but people who heard him teach in a synagogue and scoffed because his family of origin wasn’t impressive to them.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Mark writes. “And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3, ESV).

Jesus came from a poor, powerless family that lacked prestige. His parents and brothers were unimpressive according to the conventional values of the day.

Does the Greek Say Joses or Joseph?

In the original Greek, Mark and Matthew’s lists are identical for three of the names of Jesus’ brothers. For the second name, Mark says “Joses,” and Matthew says “Joseph.” As mentioned above, this is an alternative spelling of the same name. This fact makes the lists the same regarding who they identify.

Mark 6:3Matthew 13:55
James (Iakobos)James (Iakobos)
Joses (Ioses)Joseph (Ioseph)
Judas (Ioudas)Simon (Simon)
Simon (Simon)Judas (Ioudas)

Many modern Bible translations render the second brother on Mark’s list as “Joses” because that is what the Greek says (e.g., ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB). However, a few translations take the liberty to translate the second name, “Joseph” (NIV, NLT), to avoid a discrepancy with Matthew’s list.

The KJV and NKJV translations do the opposite. They translate the second name on Matthew’s list as “Joses” to be consistent with Mark’s list.

Jesus of Nazareth
Did Jesus’ brothers think he was unwell at first? See below

Jesus’ Brothers in the New Testament

The Gospels mention Jesus’ brothers as a group multiple times. Earlier in his ministry, his brothers expressed skepticism about him. Later, they believed in him and were part of the early church.

Jesus’ brothers didn’t initially believe in him

Mark 3:20-21 is the first time Jesus’ family is mentioned in the second Gospel, which doesn’t contain a birth story like Matthew and Luke. In the scene, his brothers question his mental health.

“Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind'” (ESV). Another Bible translation says, “he has lost his senses” (NASB). Also see John 7:5.

One Mark scholar explains that the family may have been trying to protect their own reputation. “In a Middle Eastern culture where honor and shame were among the highest values, their purpose would also be to remove Jesus from a situation that could reflect badly on the family.” [1]

In another scene, when Jesus is inside, people tell him that his family is outside waiting for him. He responded, “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:31-35).

Mark Strauss writes, “This episode has a strong claim to historicity. Jesus’ brothers James and Jude became prominent leaders in the early Christian movement, making it unlikely that the church would have invented a story that put Jesus’ own family in such a poor light.” [2]

Jesus’ brothers put their faith in him

Though Jesus’ brothers were initially skeptical of him, they eventually put their faith in him and became important figures in the first few decades of the Christian church.

Luke mentions that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were part of the early church. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). These are the same biological brothers that Mark and Matthew mention.

Acts scholar Eckhard Schnabel writes, “Mary and Jesus’ brothers had been more than skeptical about Jesus’ ministry. Luke portrays them as being among those who believe in him.”

He continues: “Paul preserves a tradition that included James among those who had seen Jesus after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7), and points out that ‘the Lord’s brothers’ were involved in missionary travels, accompanied by their wives (1 Cor. 9:5).” [3]

  • 1 Cor. 9:5 reads, “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
  • 1 Cor. 15:7 reads, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
Christian cross
Were Jesus’ brothers actually his cousins? See below

How Were Jesus’ Brothers Related to Him?

The Christian church has long held that the birth stories of Jesus recorded in Matthew and Luke reveal that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, having miraculously conceived through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:27-34).

Since Jesus’ brothers weren’t conceived similarly, people are curious about how to describe their relationship. People have debated this matter for centuries.

(1) Some in Christian history have believed that Mary remained a virgin her entire life. The Bible doesn’t say this. Yet, the view has led some to seek an alternative explanation for Jesus having biological brothers and sisters. One argument is that Jesus’ siblings were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage.

(2) Those who look to the Bible alone for answers believe Jesus’ brothers and sisters were born to Joseph and Mary after she gave birth to Jesus. In support of this idea, Luke 2:7 mentions that Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn son,” implying she had other children. Mary wasn’t a perpetual virgin in this view. But, because of the virgin birth, Jesus’ brothers and sisters are half-siblings.

(3) A less popular view because of the lack of evidence is that Jesus’ siblings are his cousins, born to Mary, wife of Cleopas (cf. John 19:25).

References:
[1] Mark by Mark Strauss. ZECNT. p. 168.
[2] Ibid. p. 172.
[3] Acts by Eckhard Schnabel. ZECNT. p. 85.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

Recent Posts

error: This content is copyrighted.